December 21, 2013

How to work in engineering and design for global development

So, you have decided to put your engineering skills to use in the service of global development, but you’re not sure how to get started. We asked some of our happily employed members and other experts and came away with two different kinds of answers. The first is that it’s hard, and the second is that it’s possible.

[Scroll down for links to job listings and organizations that hire]

First, the hard news

We heard the same thing from nearly everyone we asked. It’s tough.

“Sorry to break it to you, but this field is one largely of boutique players and very insular boutique operations in large companies. There aren’t many jobs out there to be had, and you need to look hard to find the ones that come up every once and a while. Most people in this field make their own jobs as entrepreneurs and consultants,” Peter Haas, founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, wrote on E4C’s bulletin board (we followed up to verify his identity because, well, this is the Internet).

The same from Jose Gomez-Marquez, medical device designer at Little Devices and a health course instructor at MIT’s D-Lab. His advice for breaking into the field: “You just do it. Then you create your own job. If that’s not doable, then you wait for field to mature.

[quote author=”Jose Gomez-Marquez, Little Devices Lab at MIT”]I am not keen on suggesting that people go to places where their pay is going to be below market, because the students suffer, the field gets devalued, and we don’t achieve sustainability. That said, there are some places out there.[/quote]

How to find work (or make your own)

Krista Donaldson, who heads D-Rev, wrote a thoughtful piece about how to enter the field of design for social impact. She has four broad suggestions and fills out each with a wealth of resources.

The first tip is to become familiar with the space, including the culture of the organizations where you’d like to work, their structure, impact in the world and tools for “user-centric” design. The second is to get field experience, and that section is crammed with ideas, such as fellowship and internship programs, university classes and extracurriculars. The third is to network, a heavily linked-up section with D-Rev’s favorite tweeters, blogs, forums and groups.

The final suggestion is to be flexible. Which is good advice for most undertakings, we’d say.

More advice

Online Colleges: The Path to a Sustainability Career
Oxfam: How to get a job in development
The Guardian: Ask the experts: A guide to careers in international development
Transitions Abroad: So you want a humanitarian job? A practical guide on how to find work in disaster relief

Where to start the job search

This list is not comprehensive and any oversights are not meant to reflect our opinion of the organizations. In fact, we’ll be glad to add to this list with future updates. You can help by making suggestions in the comments below (we read all of them).

E4C’s Oppportunities Portal

Visit our Opportunities Portal to find careers, volunteer opportunities, fellowships and scholarships.


Engineers on Linked In are especially helpful. The folks in these groups may have some tips for you, and check the “Jobs” tabs for listings.
Engineering for Change
Engineers Without Borders – USA
International Development Forum


DevEx is one of the first resources mentioned when we ask people where to find work in humanitarian engineering and international development. DevEx is also on Linked In with job posts.


This is also a rich resource for finding work in humanitarian fields.

Development Aid

There are lots of listings at Development Aid. Search for keywords, locations and other parameters. We’ll start you off with a general search for the word “engineering.”


We post job announcements on Twitter under the hashtag #Jobs.

Companies and organizations that work in humanitarian engineering

Experts in our network and members have recommended the resources in this list. Again, it is not comprehensive and if there is something that we should add please tell us in the comment section. Some of these organizations have representatives in E4C’s Appropriate Solutions Evaluation Program, which has helped develop our Solutions Library. And we’ve linked each organizations’ careers pages if they’re available.

International organizations, disasters and humanitarian relief 
The University of California Berkeley’s list includes a section on databases and search engines, international organizations that are heavy with United Nations programs, and a list of non-governmental organizations, many of which may hire engineers and other specializations.

Architectural Record’s list: Humanitarian Design
Heather Fleming, co-founder of Catapult Design, recommends this informative post at Architectural Record; Humanitarian design: Non-profit firms and organizations. The list is strong on urban renewal organizations in US cities, and we’ve pulled out some of the international organizations here for world travelers.

Arc Finance
Arc Finance helps to finance access to water, energy and other basic needs.

Ashoka promotes social entrepreneurship and supports “changemakers” worldwide.

This venture develops business models and clean energy systems to electrify off-grid communities in emerging economies.

Catapult Design
This firm makes design and technical capacity accessible to entrepreneurs and organizations working within disadvantaged communities.

Daktari Diagnostics
This non-profit manufactures diagnostic medical products for the developing world.

Design Impact
This Cincinnati-based nonprofit links international designers with community organizations in India to improve education, healthcare, human rights and economic development.

Design that Matters
This non-profit leverages the work of professional volunteers to design new products to improve services offered in developing countries.

Engineering Ministries International (EMI)
This Christian ministry based in Colorado Springs builds hospitals, orphanages, schools and other facilities for impoverished communities in developing countries.

Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA)
The American faction of the vast international Engineers Without Borders organization is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, with a network of 250 chapters throughout the country. It has roughly 12,000-members carrying out 350 projects in at least 45 countries around the world.

Global Cycle Solutions
This social enterprise markets bicycle, hand, and solar powered devices to improve productivity in rural impoverished communities. The organization offers a fellowship in Arusha, Tanzania.

Great Lakes Energy, Ltd
GLE provides solar energy to millions of people in rural East Africa.

Habitat for Humanity International
This ecumenical Christian ministry in Atlanta, Georgia, helps communities build homes for low-income families worldwide. Its independent affiliates have built more than 500,000 homes so far.

Honey Bee Network
This network nurtures talent in impoverished communities in India, documenting inventions that were developed out of necessity and sharing them with the global community. is the non-profit arm of the design firm IDEO and it conducts “human-centered design” projects to improve lives in impoverished communities.

Nairobi’s Innovation Hub (iHub)
This is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies, hackers, young entrepreneurs, programmers, designers and researchers in the area.

International Development Enterprises
iDE performs need-finding, conceptual design, engineering, prototyping, and business-model design for scale-up of new irrigation, rural energy, and other income-generating products and services for the poor.

International Water and Communities Initiative
The Pacific Institute’s initiative develops tools and trains people to improve water quality, sanitation and hygiene.

Manna Energy Ltd.
This social enterprise develops clean energy, clean water and promotes self-sustainable economies in impoverished regions.

Practical Action
This non-profit works with communities to find practical solutions to the poverty they face and to build livelihoods through technology.

Sanergy builds sustainable sanitation in urban slums. Openings are listed at Jobs Core.

This cleantech venture provides clean water to rural India.

Sasa Africa
Sasa connects artisans in developing countries to online consumers using mobile phones.

This New York-based organziation builds classrooms, libraries, and schools in Zambia and other sub-Saharan African countries.

United Nations
The UN hires a huge range of experts.

United Nations Foundation
The foundation links people and resources to the UN to help solve problems worldwide.

The United Nations Children’s Fund works to protect children’s rights and development.

US Agency for International Development
USAID hires experts with a wide range of technical specializations and operates worldwide.

Women’s World Banking
This micro-finance network operates in 28 countries to help women start businesses.

World Vision
World Vision employs experts with a range of technical specializations in its work to serve 100 million people in 100 countries and alleviate poverty and improve lives.

Water For People
Water for People helps to develop locally sustainable drinking water, sanitation facilities and hygiene education programs in developing countries.

Comments from the Community


  1. Varun Verma says:

    there are also lots of volunteering opportunities in INDIA THrOUGH ISPIICE http://WWW.VOLUNTEERINDIAISPIICE.COM

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